Politics

Alaska Rep. Don Young tests positive for COVID-19

Alaska’s U.S. Rep. Don Young said Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Young, who turned 87 in June, this week was declared the winner of his latest bid for reelection by several national media outlets. He’s a 47-year veteran of Congress, the oldest member of either chamber and the longest-serving Republican in congressional history. He is Alaska’s lone U.S. representative.

In social media posts on his official accounts, Young said he is feeling strong, working from home and following proper protocol, and he asked for privacy. His press secretary did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Young has been in Alaska in recent weeks campaigning.

Young’s official U.S. House office and campaign manager did not respond to questions, including whether any of Young’s staff or others close to the congressman have also tested positive.

Neither the official office staff or campaign staff provided any additional information after Young’s social media announcement. The Daily News requested Young’s campaign schedule for the past week. The Daily News sent Young’s staff a list of unanswered questions, including whether the congressman was showing symptoms and what prompted him to get tested.

Young attended a party on Friday at Little Italy in Anchorage for a veteran Republican political consultant with several others in attendance. A list of attendees and a photo of the evening, showing Young and others, was published Monday in a newsletter by the conservative website Must Read Alaska.

Little Italy owner PJ Gialopsos said she received a call from one of the guests on Monday — not Young — who told her they started feeling symptoms on Saturday.

Gialopsos said she tested her staff, and all came back negative. She also said the restaurant was sanitized, as is normal practice. She said she hasn’t yet heard from contact tracers, but the restaurant keeps a log of visitors.

“It’s all right here if they want it," she said.

Gialopsos said she does not know how many in the group are symptomatic or have since tested positive. She found out about Young on Thursday.

Gialopsos said she is proud of her staff for wearing masks and diligently cleaning, and said everyone needs to be cautious.

“It behooves us all to be very vigilant," she said. "My staff doesn’t want to lose any more work than they already have.”

Several reported attendees did not return messages asking if they or anyone else at the dinner has since tested positive for COVID-19.

Young’s positive test result comes as the pandemic is surging in Alaska and the United States. On Wednesday, the nation recorded a single-day record of 140,000 cases. In Alaska, single-day counts are ranging between about 400 and 600, with an uptick in deaths and hospitalizations.

Hours before Young tweeted he was positive, Alaska’s Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy released a video through a cellphone emergency alert system asking Alaskans to take immediate steps to curb the spread of the virus, including wearing a mask and social distancing. Dunleavy has also deemed the spread of the virus among front-line workers “an imminent threat to the safety of Alaskans," according to the governor’s office.

Dunleavy was one of several Alaska politicians to wish Young a speedy recovery after the congressman shared he had tested positive. Others included former Gov. Bill Walker and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

At 87 years old, Young falls into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s category of older adults at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Young has made controversial statements about COVID-19 in the past.

In March, while addressing a group of seniors in Palmer, he called it the “beer virus” and said that it was being overblown by media.

“They call it the coronavirus. I call it the beer virus. How do you like that?” he said to the group at Mat-Su Senior Services. “It attacks us senior citizens. I’m one of you. I still say we have to as a nation and state go forth with everyday activities.”

Later, in a video statement, Young said the impacts of COVID-19 are real.

“Weeks ago I did not fully grasp the severity of this crisis, but clearly, we are in the midst of an urgent public health emergency,” Young said in the video, adding that it’s especially threatening to senior citizens like himself.

In an October debate against his challenger, Democratic-nominated independent Alyse Galvin, Young urged caution on measures to shut businesses down to slow the spread of the virus.

“Until we start producing real wealth again, we run a risk of running into inflation,” Young said in the debate. “That scares me probably more than anything else. The pandemic’s bad, but inflation would be worse.”

Galvin during the campaign criticized Young for not taking the pandemic seriously.

While Young did not carry out a traditional political campaign in his bid for reelection this summer due to the pandemic, he did continue to hold some outdoor campaign events where people weren’t wearing masks and posted pictures to his Facebook page of himself in close proximity to others, including photos of him shaking hands with other individuals.

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